unrwa usa Board of Directors
Ghassan Salameh, Chair
Karen AbuZayd, former UNRWA Commissioner-General
Ambassador (ret.) Maura Connelly
Ambassador (ret.) Ryan Crocker
Ambassador (ret.) Richard W. Murphy
Imad I. Qasim
Ambassador (ret.) Philip C. Wilcox, Jr., Chair Emeritus
UNRWA USA Staff
Raised right outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, Abby’s a midwesterner with her heart in social justice and human rights for all.
Since the end of 2010, Abby Smardon has served as UNRWA USA’s Executive Director, where she oversees projects to raise critical funds and awareness in the United States for UNRWA's work. She travels extensively throughout the region to facilitate and evaluate humanitarian projects to benefit refugees.
Prior to UNRWA USA, Abby worked with refugees and marginalized populations in France. She received her MA in Conflict Resolution in the Arab World at George Washington University and Sciences Po in Paris.
Abby is an avid traveler having visited 34 countries, but she’s always looking for ways to visit more!
Ask Abby about: all things UNRWA, Palestine refugees, and pop culture!
Born and raised in the suburbs of Washington DC to an family active in civil and human rights, some of Laila’s earliest memories involve carrying signs at demonstrations demanding social justice.
Her family’s activism gene inspired Laila’s involvement in community organizing throughout her younger years and her desire to study the Middle East at the university. Laila went on to earn a BA in Global Affairs (concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa) and a minor in Music (piano) at George Mason University.
Today, Laila brings a decade of experience in public relations, creating and managing nonprofit communications, and raising funds for a variety of progressive organizations. Prior to joining UNRWA USA as its Communications Officer in 2013, she managed the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)’s communications and outreach efforts. Her current role and that at ADC illustrate Laila’s passions: humanitarian concern for the people of Palestine and the fight for social justice.
Laila has proudly served her local Arab American community as a board member of the Network of Arab American Professionals DC Chapter (NAAP-DC), the DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival (DCPFAF), and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (DC Chapter). She currently acts as the an organizer for afikra DC, and is the board president of Open Roads Media Foundation, which focuses on conflict transformation, intercultural dialogue, and education though the innovative use of alternative media.
Ask Laila about: connecting, communications, social media, apps, technology, music/piano, her love for all things Spanish, or the law of attraction!
As a teenager, Lori left home in southern New Jersey to attend an international scout camp in England. That experience sparked her interest in global citizenship, social justice, and peacebuilding. This passion led her to pursue an MS in International Education (with a focus in Peace Education) from Drexel University and a BA in International Studies (with a focus in International Development) from American University.
Lori spent almost ten years working for humanitarian and development organizations before joining UNRWA USA as our Program Manager. She enjoys recruiting and connecting volunteers, advocates, and donors to UNRWA’s crucial work in support of Palestine refugees.
Ask Lori about: volunteer opportunities, joining the UNRWA alumni network, her love for the Chesapeake Bay, her mischievous bunny rabbit, scouting, sailing, and exploring National Parks.
Not unfamiliar with the 'where are you really from?' question, Medhini considers herself a citizen of the world with Coloradan and Indian roots. Passionate about social justice, refugee rights, and dignity for all people, Medhini aims to contribute to a more just world through her work with UNRWA USA.
Prior to this role, Medhini worked in various humanitarian capacities with international NGOs in Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq. Stateside, she has worked within the human rights/anti-terrorism practice group at Motley Rice LLC.
She holds an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University and a BA in Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies from Emory University, degrees that would most likely cause Edward Said to turn in his grave.
Ask Medhini about: international humanitarian/human rights law, Palestine refugees, the merits and flaws of various map projections, Lord of the Rings, and all things ice cream.
Grew up in Rafah refugee camp in Gaza Strip, Palestine, Mohammed experienced himself the challenging life of being a Palestine refugees.
Attended the UNRWA schools, benefited from its health care services, and as most refugees in the camp, survived on the UNRWA’s food aid and social services during worst times. Mohammed received a master’s degree in Curriculum Design and Teaching methodology from Al-Azhar University and another degree in Applied Linguistics from University of Southampton in England. He then worked for the UNRWA education department in different positions related to education development, before joining the emergency response team during crisis and rise of conflict to serve his own community during and post military assaults on Gaza Strip.
Mohammed came to US in 2017 and two years later graduated with a Global Studies and International Development graduate degree from both University of North Carolina and Duke University.
Growing up as a refugee in one of the worst conflict zones in the region, Mohammed dedicates his life to help Palestine refugees and conflict victims, giving them help and support through the UNRWA which he credits for him being able to make it so far.
Ask Moh about: Palestine refugees, foreign aid and humanitarian assistance, humanitarian effectiveness, role of UNRWA in Palestine refugee lives, and why Nabulsi cheese makes the knafeh completely different from what you may already know.
Born in England and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Harley moved to the East Coast to attend college. After spending a semester in Hungary working for a refugee integration NGO, she realized her passion for working with and for refugees. This took her to Jordan, where she focused on understanding the complexities of conflict and migration while volunteering with a grassroots organization focused on empowering and teaching refugee children.
Prior to this role, Harley worked with asylum seekers in France and interned at Amnesty International, focusing on grassroots and national advocacy strategies as they relate to refugees and asylum seekers in the US.
She received her MA in International Relations from Queen Mary University of London and a BA in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.
Ask Harley about: opportunities for grassroots engagement and events, EU asylum law, yoga, the best places to eat in DC, and her identical twin sister.